VALDOSTA, Ga. — Former NFL linebacker and Florida State University standout Geno Hayes died Monday night at the age of 33, four days after being placed in hospice care at his parents’ home in Georgia for end-stage liver disease.
Frankie Carroll, who coached Hayes at Madison County High School in Florida, told the Tallahassee Democrat that the player’s family informed him of Hayes’ death.
“It’s one of those things where you have to make sure you tell them you love them,” Carroll, who recently visited Hayes and currently serves as athletic director for Worth County High School in Georgia, told the newspaper.
Hayes, who battled the disease for two years, was hospitalized more than 20 times as the disease progressed, WFLA reported.
Hayes, who signed with Florida State in 2005, was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008 and played a total of seven seasons in the NFL, including stints with both the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars, the TV station reported.
Hayes was diagnosed with chronic liver disease while being treated for an unrelated medical issue, and he told ESPN before entering the hospital in March that he suspected his use of nonprescription pain medications throughout his career, combined with a family history of liver disease, caused his condition.
“I didn’t do like regular guys do with the Toradol shots ... I just took [over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications],” Hayes told the sports news network. “I thought it was safer, but once I got out (of football) and started doing research, I was like, ‘Oh ... my body is not set up for this.’”
He also confirmed to ESPN that he had been placed on a waiting lists for a liver transplant at both the Mayo Clinic and Northwestern Medicine in December.
Legendary coach Bobby Bowden, 91, remembered Hayes’ sought-after talent when contacted by the Democrat Tuesday morning.
“He was a good one, a linebacker who could run. Everyone was looking for that speed,” the retired FSU coach told the newspaper.
In Hayes’ seven NFL seasons, he recorded 401 tackles, 10 sacks, six forced fumbles, six interceptions and two defensive touchdowns, the Democrat reported.
Hayes had two children, ages 13 and 8, with his wife, Shevelle.